Games about post-apocalyptic showdowns usually begin with a long origin story about exactly where mankind went wrong. Metro 2033 clearly regards that as too soft: it just throws you into a nuclear nightmare, surrounded by thousands of giant mutated rats.
With the howling wind interrupted by the sound of your breathing and your vision partially obscured by a gas mask, it's one of the most frightening and atmospheric openings we can remember, instilling a sense of dread that stays with you for the rest of the game. This irradiated Moscow isn't a city you can save, and all the game's characters just hope to survive from one day to the next by living in the underground system.
See the sights
There's an abundance of non-combat sequences, from exploring a series of haunted tunnels while your companion explains their horribly twisted past, to roaming through the wonderfully vivid human settlements and eavesdropping on conversations.
Metro 2033 excels at setting a scene and creating a tense atmosphere, and presents a very different post-apocalyptic world from Fallout 3: there's no black comedy, just unrelentingly bleak realism.
The split between combat and story is still weighted towards blasting mutants in the face, but not as much as in other first-person shooters. Which is a good thing, because the gunplay isn't particularly satisfying.
While it makes sense in that the guns are cobbled-together relics of the Second World War, their inaccuracy and low ammo capacity don't make them that much fun to use. It's possible to buy upgrades, but even then the guns lack the oomph that we've come to expect.
There are two types of ammo, hand-made and military-grade. The latter has much more stopping power, but it's also the currency needed for buying weapons and supplies. It's an interesting mechanic that forces you to choose between short-term survival or toughing it out and having a better weapon down the line.
Life's a gas
Because the guns' accuracy is so bad and there's so little ammo, you're constantly poking around for more in dead bodies and darkened tunnels. If you're outside, you've got to worry about your gas mask, too Each filter has a limited lifespan and because there's no HUD, you have to keep an eye on your watch (and the heaviness of your breathing) to know when to replace it. The constant struggle for resources adds a welcome touch of survival horror that's a world away from the bullet-spraying invulnerability of other first-person shooters.
If there's any major letdown, it's that the mutants never get any scarier than in the opening scene. They mostly look like giant rats or dogs - ugly, but not very original. They're more advanced than they look, though, because they don't spawn and immediately know where you are (unless it's a scripted battle).
If you play stealthily, it's often possible to avoid them altogether - this is especially true of the encounters with renegade humans.
If you're looking for a first-person shooter to compete with Modern Warfare 2's precision weaponry and explosive set-pieces, then Metro 2033 probably isn't the game for you. But should you be in the mood for a more measured pace and an atmosphere that's thicker than radioactive waste, this nuclear horror show really hits the mark.
Totally gripping from start to finish
- Great story-driven sequences
- Frightening and suspenseful
- Original gas mask mechanics
- Gunplay doesn't feel very satisfying
- Underwhelming monster designs